Christmas Goes Hollywood

Annual parade, once featuring Gene Autry as grand marshal, is a West Coast holiday tradition

As most of the United States braces for snow — or at least much cooler temperatures this time of year — maybe it’s odd that the country’s largest Christmas tradition occurs in sunny Los Angeles, where 80-degree Decembers aren’t unusual. But the Hollywood Christmas Parade has been held for the past 85 years under mostly beautiful skies — and with nary a snowflake.

This year the pageant is set for Sunday, starting its traditional 3.5-mile route from TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s and Mann’s) on Hollywood Boulevard, crossing over Vine Street, and ending on Sunset Boulevard and Orange Street. The event will be presented and produced by Associated Television International, in conjunction with the City of Los Angeles itself. It will be televised on the CW.

The tradition has a long and kid-friendly history.

It’s easy for adults to be cynical of a Christmas season that seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. When Santa and Frosty show up before Halloween, and in some cases even before the new school year starts, it’s understandable the driving consumerism behind it all grows wearing.

But the Hollywood Christmas Parade cast hopes to overshadow skepticism with marching bands galore, silly (and ginormous) balloons — including The Cat in the Hat, Penguins of Madagascar, the Grinch, and Rilakkuma — and a cast of other happy thousands. Even if adults occasionally roll their eyes during the holiday season, and at parades in general, little kids sure don’t — and won’t during this event.

The procession (formerly called the Hollywood Santa Parade and Santa Claus Lane Parade) has a long and kid-friendly history, with past grand marshals including Gene Autry, who rode his horse in the parade in 1946 and was reportedly inspired to write “Here Comes Santa Claus” because of the children yelling just that. Autry became a fan and was a frequent grand marshal. Other former grand marshals include Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Ron Howard, Michael Landon, William Shatner, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and Jimmy Stewart.

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This year, Grand Marshal Olivia Newton-John will lead. A breast-cancer survivor and advocate for children’s health, Newton-John has had a five-decade career that includes serving as a Goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Environment Program and co-founding Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (now called Healthy Child, Healthy World). Beyond her service to various communities, Newton-John has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charities and cancer research. Of course, she’s also known for portraying Sandy in a little 1970s musical called “Grease.”

Parade hosts include Eric Estrada and Laura McKenzie, who for 10 years co-hosted “American Adventurer” together. Later, the duo co-hosted “The World’s Funniest Moments.”

Other parade hosts include Dean Cain and Montel Williams.

The parade will also include live musical performances by Cyndi Lauper, Kenny G, WAR, Eric Benét, Scotty McCreery, Band Of Merrymakers, and The Empty Hearts super group with members from Blondie, The Cars, Chesterfield Kings, and The Romantics. Besides music, magicians from the CW’s hit series “Masters of Illusion” will also present a special magic performance.

All proceeds will go to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. The organization distributes toys in communities across the country, helping millions of families each year.

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As to whether people should turn out for this event or not: One parade-goer described a previous Holiday Christmas Parade this way: “It’s fun, sometimes silly, interesting, and magical. Music, equestrians, balloons, star cars, costumed characters, and marching bands! It really makes me feel the holiday spirit. It’s a tradition and a great way to ring in the holidays. Get a seat, sit back, hug your partner, and relax.”

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